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Elephant tranquilizer suspected in Pueblo drug supply

Posted at 7:51 PM, Jan 29, 2019

PUEBLO – A profoundly potent drug normally used to sedate multi-ton animals, including elephants, may have made its way into illicit opioids in Pueblo.  The Southern Colorado Harm Reduction Association, one of Pueblo’s two needle exchange programs, says there’s anecdotal evidence of the presence of carfentanil in the community.

Carfentanil is 10,000 times more potent than morphine and 100 times more potent than fentanyl, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.  Recent reports of at least one and possibly two overdosing users in Pueblo who required significantly more than the usually-effective single dose of NARCAN to be revived lead the Association to suspect that carfentanil has made its way into the local drug inventory.

Judy Solarno, founder and executive director of the Southern Colorado Harm Reduction Association says opioid users are almost certainly unsuspecting to the potential extreme potency of contaminated drugs.  “There is no way to identify whether or not fentanyl or carfentanil are in a drug,” Solarno said.  “It’s odorless, it’s tasteless, it has no way of being detected other than through a test strip.”

Solarno and co-founder Dr. Michael Nerenberg say fentanyl test strips are now being given to needle exchange clients so they can test for the presence of fentanyl or carfentanil in their heroin, meth, or cocaine.  “It’s already in the product and people are just distributing as they normally would,” Solarno said.

“We’re real sure it was legit,” Nerenberg said of a reported requirement of three NARCAN doses to revive a recent overdose.  “The person who was participating (in administering the NARCAN) described it to us: ‘I gave him a dose and I gave him a second dose and I gave him a third dose, and then he finally woke up, but he was really stoned,'” as compared to normal when revived overdoses awaken in withdrawals.

The potential arrival of carfentanil occurs at a critical time for funding to keep the Association running.  Nerenberg says the Southern Colorado Harm Reduction Association is asking Pueblo City Council and other local organizations for $10,000 each to keep things running through late spring, when they may receive crucial grants to continue operations.  “Probably $30,000 or $40,000 would get us through,” Nerenberg said.  “If it doesn’t come through, we can’t stay open.  We’ve got to pay rent, we’ve got to buy supplies.”

In the meantime, Solarno says they are trying to get NARCAN into the hands of as many people as possible — clients, schools, libraries.  “We believe that it is a necessary drug that anyone can learn to use,” Solarno said.